A Pastoral Letter for September 11 Dear brothers and sisters of the Nashville Episcopal Area,
Nine years ago this Saturday, our nation was thrown into turmoil when a group of religious extremists turned airplanes into weapons, and took the lives of thousands. September 11, 2001 was dark day in the history of our nation, a day when a the name of God was misused as a justification for hate and terror. And yet, in the days following that tragedy, we saw again and again examples of men and women reaching across the religious divide to support one another. President George W. Bush, a United Methodist, led the way in reminding us that the actions of a few should not be reflected upon the faith of many, stating:
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world...America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.” We have watched with dismay during the past several months as the belief that our nation is a bastion of religious freedom has eroded under the weight of anti-Islamic rhetoric. From the attacks on the Cordoba House project in New York (the so called Ground Zero Mosque) to the burnings of construction equipment at the site of the new Islamic Community Center in Murfreesboro, to planned Quran burnings in Florida and Tennessee, we have seen the fears of good people inflamed, and taken advantage of. While much of this rhetoric is being misused for political purposes, the result is that more people are lashing out with fear of the other, challenging the freedom of religious practice that has been a hallmark of our country and is protected in the Bill of Rights.
Those of us in the United Methodist tradition must stand in the face of hate and fear mongering to proclaim the radical love of God which calls us to offer hospitality to the other, not to attack them and drive them away. Our church has recognized that “religious persecution has been common in the history of civilization” through our Social Principles, which urges all United Methodists to support “policies and practices that ensure the right of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political, or economic restrictions.” This teaching continues:
We condemn all overt and covert forms of religious intolerance, being especially sensitive to their expression in media stereotyping. We assert the right of all religions and their adherents to freedom from legal, economic, and social discrimination. As we approach and remember the attacks of September 11, the right response for people of faith is not to burn Muslim holy books or protest against the construction of buildings designed to help others practice their faith. September 11 is a day when all of us should be in prayer for the world, remembering that God’s true love casts out fear, and that we have been called to love our neighbors in sacrificial ways. Jesus clearly commanded in the Sermon on the Mount that we have a responsibility to not attack those who would see us as enemies, but instead to love them and pray for them. September 11 should be a call to prayer for all, a time when we proclaim that extremist terrorism holds no power over us, and that we believe in the radical love of God to transform the world.
Thus, I call upon all United Methodists in Middle and West Tenneessee, as well as those in SW Kentucky, to a special time of prayer and fasting on September 11 for the well being of our world. May we use this time to ask God to bring us together and heal the divisions that divide us.
May God’s blessings be upon you all, and may you know the amazing grace of God which calms our fears and gives us hope.